It is happening all across the nation. The ACLU sue city counsel after city counsel over praying in Jesus name. They don't sue to stop all prayer, but in every case the target has been Christian prayer. They even fought for the right of a Wiccan to pray at a counsel meeting. Many times it doesn't even take a lawsuit. They just type up a threatening letter and that does the trick. This was the case in Fredericksburg. But one man isn't taking things lying down.
Fredericksburg City Councilman Hashmel Turner has filed suit against his fellow council members, saying the council's newly adopted prayer policy violates his constitutional rights.
Turner is being represented by the Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit group that advocates for free expression issues.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Richmond, asks the court to rule that the city's prayer policy is unconstitutional, and to order that Turner be allowed back into the council's prayer rotation.
The council voted 5-1 in November to adopt a policy of offering non-denominational prayers devoid of any Christian or other specific religious references.
Turner abstained from that vote, and Councilman Matt Kelly voted against the policy.
The vote came after Turner had been excluded from the council prayer rotation for more than a year. The council got a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union in July 2004 saying that the civil liberties group would file suit if Turner continued to invoke the name of Jesus Christ in his prayers.
Turner, who is pastor at First Baptist Church of Love in Fredericksburg, had always closed his prayers before council meetings by invoking the name of Jesus Christ before the ACLU complaint.
On the same night of the November vote for the nondenominational prayer policy, Turner asked to be put back into the prayer rotation, and to give the opening prayer before the Nov. 22 council meeting.
Mayor Tom Tomzak said today he asked Councilwoman Debby Girvan to give the prayer at that meeting instead of Turner, because, "I did not want to unleash a 1,000-pound gorilla-the ACLU-on the City Council."
However, Tomzak said he does believe Turner's rights are being violated, and the suit filed today is "a lawsuit that I probably agree with."
"He's a very passionate man, a man of faith and a man of principle, and he believes his rights have been violated," Tomzak said of Turner.
Neither City Council members nor City Attorney Kathleen Dooley had seen copies of the lawsuit earlier today.
The suit calls the new prayer policy "an unlawful attempt by the City Council to prescribe the content of prayers given at City Council meetings by Turner and other members of City Council."
John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, said Turner approached his organization last fall, saying he believed his rights were being violated. "All he wants is to say Jesus Christ at the end of the prayer," Whitehead said. "He's not asking for any money. ... It's a very simple suit."
One would think that it would be simple, yet the ACLU don't seem to get that. Religious expression in America is under attack. It is a shame that an organization that claims to protect our rights are the number one censor of Christian religious expression. If they were trying to get rid of all prayer at counsel meetings, we would have a different argument, but they are targeting Christian prayers and individual expression. It is good to see this man is standing up for his rights. More people should do so.
Currently there is legislation, introduced by Representative Hostettler that could put a stop to these ridiculous lawsuits. Hostettler's proposal would amend the Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Act of 1976, 42 U.S.C. Section 1988, to prohibit prevailing parties from being awarded attorney's fee in religious establishment cases, but not in other civil rights filings. This would prevent local governments from having to use taxpayer funds to pay the ACLU or similar organization when a case is lost, and also would protect elected officials from having to pay fees from their own pockets.
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